Thursday, January 31, 2013

Lousy Tippers Club

Between all the dinners I never feel like cooking and weekly lunch dates with friends and business acquaintances, I eat out a lot. I always tip well, because to tell you the truth, I’m self-conscious about the stereotype that black folks are bad tippers. In fact, because of this stereotype I feel compelled to tip well even when the service is not that great, and considering how often I eat out, I definitely know the difference between good and not-so-good service.

But today I learned that all my over-tipping may be in vain, because according to a study by Michael Lynn of Cornell University and Benjamin Katz of HCD Research, it is commonly perceived by food service workers that Christians and other religious people are stingy tippers. Not that this is all about me, but dang! A sister just can’t get a break!

The study found that thirteen percent of religious people leave less than a fifteen percent tip for good service, and while that means eighty-seven percent of religious people tip at or above the normative level that reality has little effect on the perceptions of food server workers. And these perceptions are not helped by stories such as the one about the waitress fired after posting on the internet a receipt left by a customer/pastor. The pastor had crossed out the automatic eighteen percent gratuity on the bill and written, “I Give God 10%. Why do you get 18?" Hmmm…

After the receipt went viral, the pastor reportedly called the restaurant, demanding the firing of the waitress who posted the receipt, who was a coworker of the pastor’s server, as well as all others involved. No one other than the server who posted the receipt was let go.

The pastor was later quoted as saying that her note was a “lapse in … character and judgment.”

Until reading the study, I had no idea servers had so many stories about being stiffed by Christians, including some who reportedly leave tracts and notes about salvation instead of cash. Give me a break y’all! Spreading the gospel is good, but that’s no excuse for being a tightwad.

As a result of the study, I now know to avoid going to restaurants immediately after church, because servers claim to get the absolute worst tips from religious people at this time, and the study also shows that a server’s quality of service is influenced by his or her perception of the tip he or she expects to receive. (I always wondered about that.)

I find the pastor’s note and her behavior afterward so outrageous I almost feel sorry for the server who posted the receipt to the internet, although she probably should have known better. But, no doubt her sacrifice positively affected the future tips of all those servers who’ll ever have the pleasure to wait on that grumpy pastor.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Who’s a Troublemaker?

It was my day to volunteer at Thomas’ school, and I found myself horning in on a conversation between two other folks who were talking about the challenges schools face keeping advanced students engaged and how sometimes these students will develop behavioral issues out of boredom. One said to the other “It sounds like you’re speaking from personal experience,” and his companion nodded. So I said, jokingly, “Oh____, were you a troublemaker?” And he said “Yes, and I still am.” To which I thought “Ah hah! I knew it!” Because you see, it takes one to know one.

It is my fervent belief that every good organization needs at least one troublemaker, and two or three is even better. Why? Because troublemakers are not easily satisfied with the status quo. Trouble-makers are constantly thinking about ways to improve processes and procedures, and they are always questioning current schools of thought (no pun intended), because they love a good argument, enjoy the mental stimulation that comes from exposure to completely new ideas or new ways of looking at old ideas, and most of all, have high standards and take pleasure in the pursuit of excellence.

I don’t know why troublemakers get such a bad rap. In general, greatness isn’t born out of a slavish adherence to the tried and true, and it certainly isn’t born out of a mulish resistance to new ideas and differing view-points. But perhaps it’s as author Jim Collins says in his book Good to Great—the biggest obstacle to great is good. “It’s good enough!” they say. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” they say. And if only they were right! But too often the truth is that it’s way broke, but everyone is so used to the six-hundred and ninety-five work arounds in place they’ve lost sight of the brokenness.

How I’ve often wished I could be one of those people who go to work, quietly do exactly as told, go home, and forget all about it until the next morning. Life would be so much easier. But I’m not built that way. If you’re not learning and growing, you’re dying as far as I’m concerned, and that goes for individuals and organizations. 

On a regular basis, a good friend of mine has to remind me how much most people hate change, because I’m inclined to forget and then get frustrated when a new idea or initiative is met with severe resistance of the unreasonable kind. The kind that causes some folks to call me a troublemaker. The label is not really fair, but I’ll own it anyway because it’s much better than some others like “mediocre,” “complacent,” “apathetic,” or even the seemingly positive “content.”  There’s a time for contentment, and there’s definitely a danger in never being able to gain satisfaction. But a “troublemaker” is not someone who can never be satisfied—he’s someone most likely to gain satisfaction when his brain is actually turned on, which is the kind of “trouble” organizations need and should welcome.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

When Is Enough Enough?

I watched a television show today about the life and last days of Anna Nicole Smith, whom I’ve always considered to be a very intriguing figure. For all her flash, brashness, and well … trashiness, there was something sweet about Smith, born Vickie Lynn Hogan, that appealed to me.

The show recounted Smith’s rebellious youth, including her stint as a stripper while still in her teens. Smith’s mother, who worked in law enforcement, claims she went to the strip club and told the manager that if her daughter wasn’t out of that joint now, she’d come back every day and make a real pest of herself. The owner complied, but apparently, Smith had already become addicted to the attention and money that being an entertainer brought.

At some point, Smith became obsessed with increasing her bust size and paid for a pair of silicone breast implants that were so large (her mother described them as “three times larger” than Smith’s original size) they caused back problems. According to her family, Smith began taking medication for the back pain, and this was the start of drug use—and abuse—that would later characterize her lifestyle.

The documentary chronicled Smith’s first marriage and birth of son Daniel; her career as a Playboy model and spokesperson for Guess? jeans; her marriage to eighty-nine-year old J. Howard Marshall II (Smith was twenty-six at the time); the long court battle over Marshall’s assets following his death; Smith’s career decline and resurgence; the birth of her daughter Dannielynn; the bizarre confusion regarding the baby’s father; the death of Smith’s son Daniel; Smith’s “commitment” ceremony to her attorney, Howard K. Stern; and Smith’s own death at the age of thirty-nine.

During the show one thought kept running through my mind. “It’s not good to need so much.”

Smith’s life seemed to be typified by excess fueled by too much need—for attention, fame, money, drama, and excitement. According to her mother, who was estranged from Smith during the later years of her life, Smith exaggerated her childhood hardships to create a more interesting “story,” and much of Smith’s behavior could only be described as outrageous, even for a celebrity.

Whatever she was chasing it doesn’t appear she ever found it. During the documentary, Smith’s cousin cried while describing watching Smith on The Anna Nicole Show, a public display of the train wreck that was her life. I almost cried, too.

Too much need and a need for all the wrong things are a hallmark of the human condition. I’ve no intent to harshly criticize Smith, because she was a tragic figure, much like her idol Marilyn Monroe, and I was saddened to hear of her death. There’s no question that many were fascinated with her larger-than-life persona and her dramatic antics. But in the end, as always, too much is never quite enough.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Your Family Is Bad for Business

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg has gone on record as saying that companies should be able to ask women about their plans to have children.

Because The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (commonly referred to as Title VII) prohibits employers from discriminating again applicants and employees on the basis of sex, and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants and employees on the basis of pregnancy, employers generally will avoid this topic, so as not to appear biased and/or gain access to information that could make them vulnerable to bias claims.

Now, I don’t know Sandberg, and from what I’ve read she makes a very healthy living doing what she does, so I have to assume she has good sense. And yet, when I read her recommendation and then this statement, “Every HR department tells you not to do that … but we need to have a much more open conversation …” I can’t help thinking that Sandberg is an out-of-touch, boneheaded business leader who doesn’t know her ass from her elbow.

These laws are in place for a reason, Sandberg, and they were enacted reactively, meaning bad stuff happened and then someone decided that perhaps women needed some protection against prejudice and bias in the workplace, even beginning with the applicant process. And now you, Miss Smarty-Pants, want to come along and say “Oh, silly HR! That’s old school! We’re all so much more evolved now! We should be able to talk about these things openly!”

As the Brits say, “Bollocks!”

On Fox News this morning, Sabrina Schaeffer, Executive Director of the Independent Women’s Forum, said she agreed with Sandberg. “The reality is that when women take off time for maternity leave and when they have children and families … it takes time away from the workplace. It has a real economic cost to business that we need to consider.”

Wow. Guess what Schaeffer? Broken arms cost companies money. So does cancer. And bullies. And the flu.

Gee, wouldn’t it be swell if during the interview process hiring managers could ask an applicant, “Hey, has anyone in your immediate family ever died from cancer? Because we sympathize, but those treatments are costly, and we’d rather keep our medical premiums down. You understand, right?” Or, “You're not on any anxiety medication, are you? ‘Cause we have some real sons-of-bitches working here, and they pretty much do whatever they want. Last year we even had a couple of employees file mental disability claims, and those can be a real drag on the balance sheet, you know? So let's chat now if you're the jumpy type, okay?"  

I bet these inquiries would save corporations all kinds of money! Sons of bitches indeed.

Oh wait! I know how to avoid the irritating “economic cost” of families on business! How about we make sterilization a condition of employment? Now just remember, what's good for the goose is good for the gander ...

Forgive me. I’m hopping mad at this display of ignorance mystified how any working woman could think this is a good idea.

No wonder so many regular working folks hate corporations. When I first began to experiment with blogging, I wrote an article about company loyalty. In that article I argued that the corporate animal is strangely hostile to humanity, and I was reminded of that argument when I read Sandberg’s quote.

Sandberg, do yourself a favor and leave the HR stuff to the HR pros, okay? We got this. And as for you, Schaeffer … all I can say is ... ugh.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Theology Matters

I had lunch with a couple of girlfriends yesterday, and it was a lot of fun. I’ve known these women for close to twenty years (I had to think about that for a minute, but yup, that’s right), and each of us is stubborn and opinionated, and it’s a wonder we don’t kill each other when we get together, but that’s what age, and history, and faith can do for you.

So I was telling my friends how Ed had joined the church we’ve been visiting while I was home sick one Sunday (we joked about his timing), but that I hadn’t joined yet, and I wasn’t going to join just yet, because I want to know a few more things about the church before making that kind of commitment. To me, joining a church is serious business—almost as serious as getting married, but not quite. Still, I believe that when you join a church you assume its financial obligations and you agree to serve its members, submit to its leadership, and abide by its theology. And, after being around the block a few times, I ain’t doing all that without some due diligence first.

So then one of my girlfriends said something like “Instead of focusing on all that, focus on your relationship with Jesus.”

And I didn’t like that advice, okay? (This friend has already told me she doesn’t read my blog, so I’m pretty certain she’s never going to read this posting.) And the reason I didn’t like the advice is—theology matters.

So I said (a little heatedly actually, so I’m guessing my friend already knows I didn’t like this advice), “That’s not good enough. If a church isn’t following biblical principles, I don’t want to join. It won’t be okay because I have a relationship with Jesus.”

“But,” she said, “there’s no such thing as a perfect church.” I told her I know that. As long as we’re on this side of heaven, there can’t possibly be any such thing as a “perfect” church. Human beings are too imperfect for that. “However,” I told her, “I still want to join a church that’s trying to follow the bible.”

Heck, I may as well join a mosque and rely on my relationship with Jesus, if that’s what it’s all about. But it isn’t.

My friend’s advice hit on a pet peeve that I didn’t even know I have and that is—Christians who don’t think theology matters. Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, Mormon, Quaker, Mennonite, Jehovah’s Witness—some Christians don’t seem to think the differences matter, and some of the differences don’t matter. But I’m here to tell you that some of these differences do matter. Some of the differences get at the very heart of who Jesus is and the nature of salvation. Others aren’t as serious but do touch on controversial topics within the church such as tithing, women in leadership, and infant baptism. And that’s before you even get to the issue of churches labeling themselves Baptist, Methodist, etc., but not following the major precepts of the denomination. So while I’m an absolute believer in the universal church, and I know that I have brothers and sisters in Christ from all denominations, I don’t think that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t take care in determining where to worship.

But hey, if that stuff doesn’t matter to you, fine. However, it darn sure matters to me, and by the way it’s because of my relationship to Jesus that it matters.

Seriously, I hope my girlfriend doesn’t read my blog.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Savers and Spenders

A friend and I were at a consignment shop, since we both love consignment shops and all the old, wonderful things to be found there. 

My friend collects Lenox®, and, after spotting a Lenox set of salt and pepper shakers said “If I had $12.00 to just throw around, I’d buy those.”

And that’s how I got a glimpse into how the other half lives. The “other half” being the savers of the world, unlike my half, the spenders.

Because, if I’d wanted that set of salt and pepper shakers, I’d have bought it so fast!

I’m the person who, when she has money left over in her checking account at the end of the month and no bill due will say to herself, “Hmmm … what can I buy that I’ve been wanting?” As opposed to that person who says, “Great! More money for the nest egg!”

Both good and bad financial habits can be learned, but I’m convinced that some of this is genetic, because I’ve met folks who become positively giddy at the idea of squeezing a dollar dry. They love coupons, bargains, free stuff, and mostly, squirreling away their cold, hard cash.

As for me, I readily admit that money burns a hole in my pocket. After I pay the bills, my first thought is always spending and never saving. Thank the Lord for automatic payroll deduction, or I’d have no retirement account at all.

A few years ago, I saw a news story about an elderly woman who, upon her husband’s death, discovered that their deprived and stingy lifestyle hid a secret. Her husband was a millionaire. 

Oh. My. Goodness. All I could think while watching the story was “Oh heck no! It's too bad she can't bring his dead body back to life and kick his ass."

I mean, these people had nothing. They were living in a dismal apartment somewhere and the wife had to beg her husband for extra grocery money, for goodness’ sake. Yet here he was hoarding cash like that miser in the Aesop fable. (Okay, that miser actually hoarded gold, but same idea.)

My friend the saver probably would have thought, “Well, at least he left her well off.” Yeah, okay.

But, perhaps it might be time to at least consider the joys of saving, because my husband is worse than I am, and neither of us is getting any younger. 

While my husand is not an extravagant spender by any means, but he does like to nickel and dime himself on stupid stuff, and he’s the kind that considers anything low-priced a “bargain.” 

Something could be old, hopelessly broken, and completely useless, but if it is low priced, Ed considers it a deal. Worse, he loves to brag about these “deals,” by saying stuff like “Don’t throw out that banjo! Those things cost $500.00!” 

It doesn’t matter that the dusty, dirty banjo with all the strings missing and the busted handle actually cost Ed $2.50. It doesn’t matter that no one in the house plays the banjo. It doesn’t matter that Ed has no plans to repair the banjo. 

What matters is that once upon a time, Ed heard about a banjo that cost a bunch of money (in perfect condition and probably from some historic period and owned by a former United States President or something, but no matter), and now that he’s got his banjo, he considers it good as gold.

And so between the two of us, we’ve got some work to do. 

And we will, as soon as I come back from the consignment shop. 


Friday, January 25, 2013

Subtle Ways We're Influenced by Race

I read the most amazing quote today. The quote was by social psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt who said, “One of the oldest race battles that blacks have fought in this country has been the battle to be recognized as fully human.”

The quote appeared in an article written in 2009 about the unconscious ways that race influences our thinking and our actions. The article opens with a discussion of the infamous New York Post cartoon of a policeman saying, after shooting a monkey who lay on the ground bleeding, “Now they will have to find someone else to write the stimulus bill.”

The Post’s Editor-in-Chief, Col Allan, defended the cartoon, claiming it had nothing to do with race. Of course, plenty of black folks, including the Reverend Al Sharpton, claimed that was bunk (or words to that effect). So in this article, author Jon Hanson asks, “But why couldn’t … both be right? Why, in other words, would Mr. Allan conclude that a parody of a violent chimpanzee cannot also reflect and encourage troubling racial associations?” He goes on to say, “What some people may not be aware of is the disturbingly robust implicit associations of African Americans to monkeys, chimps, and apes.”


Enter the quote by Erberhardt, who apparently was needed to set a few things straight. 
What am I missing? When I  searched my art database for images associated with
the word "President," this picture came up. A few times.
Eberhardt’s quote resonated with me because, as a human resources professional, it really saddens me to see all the ways in which business leaders go out of their way to not acknowledge the humanity of their workforce, and I think this choice on the part of leadership particularly affects workers of color. Just like the white slave owner had to degrade the humanity of his slaves so that he could be okay with enslaving him, whipping him, raping his wife, and so on, I believe that the present day business leader has to somehow overlook the humanity of his worker or risk losing his power advantage, or so he thinks. If I’m wrong, then I simply have no explanation for some of the crap that happens in the workplace. But I don’t think I’m wrong. And while power-disadvantaged workers of all ethnicities are affected by this dynamic, I maintain that workers of color have it bad in a special way, because the history is there, and it’s not going away. Yet, a typical business leader charged with treating workers as though they were somehow not quite human would vociferously deny the charge as mistaken at best and race baiting at worst. To quote Hanson, “If we are not thinking about race when we go about our daily lives and if we are not harboring any racial animus when we interact or socialize inter-racially, then, we assume, race is not influencing us.” But we’d be wrong about that.

A few weeks ago I wrote about white privilege, an aspect of which is generally not having to give a damn about race relations, because the concerns of the minority groups don’t have much effect on your life if you're white. However, if I’m black, and my landlord is white, and my boss is white, and my child’s teacher is white, and our welfare (no freakin’ pun intended, and don’t even go there) is dependent on them, then I’ll most likely spend a lifetime concerned with the ways of white folks. (Now that was a pun. Do yourself a favor and check out the Langston Hughes’ classic.) And this is also why women are always reading stuff to learn about men, and men aren’t reading much of anything to learn about us, but that’s a rant for another day.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any solutions to this vexing state of affairs, only a raised awareness and a determination to be seen as human whatever the cost. And for now, that’s good enough.

Thursday, January 24, 2013


In a short piece titled “The Cost of Neutral,” writer Seth Godin posits that when a person is silent but had something important to say, his act is not neutral but actually takes away value. Godin writes “If you come to my brainstorming meeting and say nothing, it would have been better if you hadn't come at all.”

This is an intriguing thought, and I get what Godin is saying. But being the cynic that I am, I think, “Well, maybe Godin is a swell boss who encourages his employees to speak up and shows real interest in and appreciation for their opinions. But I know plenty of bosses who suck at this, and keeping quiet is their employees’ main means of survival.”

Godin adds “If you go to work and do what you're told, you're not being negative, certainly, but the lack of initiative you demonstrate (which, alas, you were trained not to demonstrate) costs us all …” Okay, that’s good. Godin is admitting that perhaps silence is a learned trait, which implies that he understands some of the dynamics at play within organizations. He still wants to make his point about the cost of the silence, however, and while I’m not inclined to disagree with him, I also want to say, “Hey, Seth, I hear what you’re saying, but tell that shit to leadership, okay? Don’t come looking over here.”

As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted...

Because you see, leadership sets the tone for effective collaboration and communication. Sure, there are individuals who might be reticent with their opinions because of an unreasonable fear of the consequences, apathy, or even an ignoble desire to “information hoard,” and I suppose this post could be for them. But as a general manifesto for the working person I say, uh huh. It just depends. If opening your mouth is the surest way to get your wrist slapped (or worse), I say keep it shut and save your breathe and your energy for a future employer who’ll truly value what you have to share.

Godin writes, “It's tempting to sit quietly, take notes and comply, rationalizing that at least you're not doing anything negative. But the opportunity cost your newly lean, highly leveraged organization faces is significant.” Again, I agree. But there are instances where the leadership gets the team it deserves. Hey leadership, if you create an environment where people are afraid to speak, then um … they’re going to be afraid to speak.

The bottom line is, while I applaud Godin’s philosophy and personally think it’s more interesting to engage than not, I recognize that sometimes it’s just not worth the trouble. In these cases, I say to heck with the "cost" of neutral and instead will happily agree with my elders that “silence is golden.”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Hubby and I Talk 'Real Husbands,' Bald Men, and Racism

Last night I watched the Real Husbands of Hollywood, a show I looked forward to as soon as I saw the preview in the movie theater. (By the way, as much as I enjoyed this particular preview, I still can’t get over the fact that those bastards charge $4.00 for a bottle of water, but they need to show commercials, for crying out loud.)

Now that I’ve seen two episodes, I’m hooked, despite the fact that it’s one of those shows that’s not as funny as it should be. You know, the kind where the actors are better than the material? But it’s getting there. I can feel it.

Part of my affinity for the show stems from the fact that it promotes the talents of so many black actors (plus honorary soul brother Robin Thicke). I mean, how often does that happen? Also, the unscripted/ scripted feel of the dialogue showcases just how gifted these men are, from the body language to the facial expressions to the dialogue itself. I like it.

This morning while we’re driving Thomas to school (it’s the day I volunteer, that’s why I’m in the car), I ask Ed (my not-so-honorary white husband) why he didn’t watch the show with me last night, and he says something like “Bleh …. It looks stupid.”

You could have knocked me down with a feather when he said that, because “stupid” is Ed’s kind of show.

“What do you mean it looks stupid?” I cry, incredulous. “It’s exactly the kind of stupid you like.”

“No thanks,” Ed says.

I pause. “Oh I see. You can watch black folks on Jerry Springer all day long acting a fool, but you don’t want to see a screen full of talented and good looking black men.”

From the driver’s seat, Ed looks over at me.

“Who’s good looking? Kevin Hart? You’re kidding me, right?”

“Well, actually I was thinking of Boris Kodjoe, but let’s not change the subject.”

“What?! Listen, if you want to think some bald-headed guy is cute, then go ahead.”

Surprised, because I honestly didn’t think Ed knew who Boris Kodjoe is, I say “How did you know he’s bald-headed?”

Exasperated, Ed says, “They’re all bald-headed! That’s the style now! They’re all trying to look like Obama guys.”

I say to myself “Where the heck does he get this stuff?” (Later, I think Ed must have read this article.)

Edward says, “Let me get this straight. Because I don’t want to watch Real Husbands, I’m racist?”

“Yes,” I say.

“First of all,” Ed says, “I don’t think Kevin Hart is that funny. I mean, his stand-up stuff doesn’t translate that well to television. He’s not funny like Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, or even Martin Lawrence. He’s adequate, okay? But he’s not funny, funny. Put it like this—Flip Wilson reruns are funnier than Kevin Hart on tv. I like those two guys who left Madtv and have their own show. They do skits, and they’re funny.”

“What two guys?” I ask.

“The two guys from Madtv,” Ed says.

“I know they’re from Madtv,” I say. “You just told me that. But who are they?”

“I don’t know. Two guys from Madtv” Ed repeats.

“Are they black?” I ask. Thinking, if they aren’t, forget it, Ed is still racist.

“Yes,” Edward sighs.

“Fine,” I say. “I’ll look them up."

Ed says to Thomas, sitting in the back of the car playing with this video game, “See Thomas, this is what happens when your mom doesn’t get her morning French Vanilla with Extra Extra Cream, Extra Sugar from Dunkin Donuts. Thank God the line isn’t that long.”

So we go in the drive through, and I get my coffee, and yeah, I’m feeling a little less belligerent now, but I still think, “How can Ed not like Real Husbands?” So we’re going to catch a rerun and settle this once and for all.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hanging Out with the Young Folk

Today I participated in an interview skills workshop for high-school students in the Philadelphia public school system. The program is a joint effort of the Philadelphia Society of People and Strategy (PSPS), of which I am a member, and a local non-profit that provides career-focused training for public school students. The workshop has been around for a while and is very well structured. Honestly, a facilitator couldn’t ask for better.

I like working with teenagers. Speaking with teens about jobs and careers is very satisfying, and I appreciate the chance to make a positive impact on a young person and in turn, be infected with her enthusiasm about what the future of work holds before she gets the stuffing kicked out of her by corporate America as she embarks on these important first steps toward her calling.

There were twenty-nine students and three facilitators, which was good because it’s a packed program with lots to cover. We discussed why hiring managers request interviews, how to prepare for interviews, how to dress for interviews, common interview questions (including the dreaded “Tell me about yourself”), and how to follow-up after an interview. I think I learned as much as the students, as the other facilitators are very knowledgeable. Other than the pleasure to be had from imparting my considerable wisdom (insert air quotes here) I had the best fun role playing the interviewee from hell, who chews gum, accepts a personal call during the interview, and talks more about her aspirations to be a rap star (all while wearing a baseball cap) than on staying focused about the position in question. Another facilitator acted as the interviewer, and I’m thinking that she and I might have a future as an improve duo. She caught all my curve balls, and I know she had no idea what I was going to say because I was making it up as I went along. The students laughed during parts of this interview, but they clapped after my “good interview,” which I choose to believe means they really wanted to see me succeed. How sweet!

Afterwards, the students broke into small groups, and each had a chance to role play as well. When we finished critiquing the “performances,” we chatted a bit about interviewing in general, and one of the students said she hates talking to most strangers and there must be something wrong with her. What?! Not so, I told her, you may be introverted, and then I gave a quick explanation of the difference between extroversion and introversion, and a couple of other students at the table said they might be introverted, too! Look, if I can save one young person the discomfort of feeling like a freak because she’d rather spend some time alone than party, I have no problem with that. Introverts unite!

After all that, I had a low moment as we were leaving and I addressed one of the students by the wrong name. I think I beat myself up about that for at least an hour, because that’s how neurotic I am. I’m sorry Edward! (Now, how could I forget that his name is Edward?)

Speaking of which, I’ve decided that I’m going to emulate my Edward, who is terrible at names and so calls every man “guy.” In the past, I’ve made fun of Ed for saying, just as friendly as you please, “Hey guy!” when I know he has no idea who this person is, but now I’m starting to see the benefit of this strategy. So if I’m not one-hundred percent sure I know your name, I’m not going to guess. You will be “guy” from here on out. And if you’re female … well, I haven’t figured that out yet.

All in all, I’m glad that I participated in this workshop, and I hope the students learned something valuable. It was a lot of fun, and I met some great people. And to quote one of my least favorite songs (oh yeah, I hate this song real bad), “The children are our future.” Seriously, when we help them, we help us all.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Is Lance Armstrong a Sociopath?

Um ... I don’t know.

Aware of my fascination with psychopaths, sociopaths, master manipulators, and other character-disordered and character-disturbed people, someone (with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I’m sure) asked me this question the other day, and I was almost willing to watch Armstong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey so that I could (tongue firmly planted in cheek) provide an answer. But I don’t like Oprah Winfrey and her fake brand of spirituality or the way she oozes half-baked wisdom, so I’m sorry, I couldn’t do it.

But I can tell you what others have said, and I can also tell you that if Armstrong were a sociopath or suffered from some type of character disturbance, it wouldn’t surprise me, as it seems that character disturbed/disordered people are more common than one might think, and I’m convinced (even without a doctoral degree) that I’ve personally encountered a few.

I first became acquainted with the term “character disturbance” through the writings of George K. Simon, PhD, author of In Sheep's Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People as well as Character Disturbance: The Phenomenon of Our Age. In short, and with all due apologies to Dr. Simon in advance for any clumsiness on my part, a character-disturbed individual is someone who’s moral character is “off” in marked and consistent ways. This individual has problematic beliefs and thinking patterns that result in antisocial behavior, a problematic (e.g., narcissist) view of self and others, a disregard for the truth, responsibility-resistant behaviors and manipulation tactics, a preoccupation with “impression management,” that is, with behaving in certain ways for the sole purpose of having advantage over others (e.g., keeping others in the dark about their true nature), impaired capacity for empathy and contrition, problematic temperament and moods, low impulse control, and low ability to learn from mistakes. Sociopaths are to be considered as having a character disorder, which is farther along on the spectrum than a character disturbance.

If you think I’m a little nuts to be obsessed with this stuff, then you’ve never tangoed with one of these jokers, that’s all I’m saying. If you had, you’d have been running to the bookstore (like I did) to learn everything you could about how to protect yourself from these nasty folks.

But back to Lance Armstrong. From what I’ve read about sociopaths, one distinguishing characteristic is something I’ll call “crime opportunist.” Sociopaths have such a low regard for society’s rules and the rights of others that they’ll engage in all kinds of crimes—they don’t just stick to one. For example, Sante Kimes, a pathological liar who has been classified as a sociopath by qualified professionals, engaged in fraud, forgery, robbery, enslavement, corruption of a minor, incest, petty thievery, and murder.

Lance Armstrong doesn’t have that kind of a history, but he sure sounds like someone with a character disturbance to me, because... well ... something is off with this dude(But again, I’m not a doctor ...)

As promised, here’s a few links to what others are saying:

“Lance Armstrong Outs Himself as a Sociopathic Liar in a Staged Oprah ‘Confession’ That Smacks of Yet More Public Image Manipulation,”

“Lance Armstrong, Arrogant and Unaware, Did Little to Repair His Image in Mea Culpa with Oprah,”

“Bomani Jones: Lance Armstrong is a Sociopath,”

“Lance Armstrong Shows His True Sociopathic Colors with Oprah,

“Lance Armstrong Proves He Is a Sociopath,”

You be the judge.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


Lots of people are nice, but few are truly kind. Nice is fine, and the world needs nice, but it needs kindness more. Kindness goes out of its way to help (unlike its nasty cousin meanness, which goes out of its way to hurt) and wants nothing in return. The world has plenty of mean-spirited souls, but kind-hearted souls are harder to find.

Now here’s an issue I’ve debated with myself for years. How do you distinguish between those actions that define a person as bad versus those actions that are bad but perpetuated by a good person?

Because people are complex, and most of us aren’t one way all the time. So your cold-blooded witch of a boss might be so and so’s most-favorite Auntie, who knows? But I’ve never been satisfied with the notion that at her core a person is neither good nor bad, and I’ve certainly never been satisfied with the idea that at her core she is "basically" good. That philosophy doesn’t square with my worldview.

Either way, I suppose the world would benefit from more kind acts bestowed by whomever for whatever purpose. And it’s a comfort to know that whatever our motives, God is in control. As Joseph told his brothers “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result” (Genesis 50:20).  

Even so, I covet kindness. Kindness is good motive with a good result, and it represents the very best of who we are. Kindness makes the world a more tolerable place, and that’s saying something.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Party Time!

I woke up this morning in anticipation of the things I’d need to do for Thomas’ birthday party. Thomas is nine years old today.

The party was being held at a neighborhood art studio. The studio is located in an artists’ condominium, which is a very cool place to be. All the residents are visual artists, and when you enter the building and pass through the common entry and the mailboxes you'll find yourself in a long hallway with the walls on either side clad in fabulous art that changes frequently. If you enjoy being around creative people, like I do, you’d feel happy in this space.

Thomas used to take Saturday morning art classes at the studio (and he will again when I don't have to wake up in the cold and the dark for it to happen), and his teacher is great with kids and really a kind soul. During the party, some of the parents hung out with the kids in the studio proper, while others sat in the kitchen/dining area and talked.

But before we could get to the good stuff, that is, the chatting and the snacking and what not, I had a few things to do. Not a whole lot, but I did have to swing by the grocery store and pick up chips, pretzels, soda, ice-cream cups, plates, plastic cups, and ice; order the pizza; and then set everything up at the studio.  

I needed Ed to pick up the chicken ("Seriously Mom, fried chicken? How ghetto."), and I hated to ask him, because he started the morning annoyed that he couldn’t find the iron. I avoid ironing as much as possible, so I hadn’t seen it. Ed texted Christian, who had left the house much earlier, and it turns out that Christian had taken the iron for an arts and craft lesson he was giving at the orphanage. Orphanage? What orphanage? When did Christian start working at an orphanage? Does Philadelphia even have any orphanages?

Ed said, “Great. So now the iron is going to come back with melted glue and glitter and shit on it.”

I said, “I love that boy to death, but we’re going to have to have a little talk. He can’t just take our stuff out of the house. Next thing you know the iron won’t work, and he’ll be like ‘I didn’t break it. What makes you think I broke it?’”

Sigh. Later at the party, I tell my sister-in-law this story, and she says, “Crystal, save yourself the aggravation and just buy another iron tomorrow. Don’t even check the old iron. Just do it.” I tell her that’s a good idea.

Everyone seemed to have fun at the party, which made me glad, because even though most of the guests know each other, some didn’t, and sometimes when you try to combine people from different pockets of your life it doesn’t work. But today I think it did. I know Thomas enjoyed the celebration, even the part when everyone sings “Happy Birthday” and he had to blow out the candles on the cake. Granted, he scampered away as soon as humanly possible after the last flame died (like his Mom, he does not like to be the center of attention), but I could tell he was happy just the same.

Happy Birthday, baby! It doesn’t matter that I cried for two weeks after learning I was pregnant with you. (Cut me some slack, okay? I was thirty-eight and already had two children aged eleven and fifteen.) I love you and could not imagine my life without you!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Truth—Harder to Find Than a Needle in a Haystack

This morning, the anchors on Fox News wanted to talk about how the sports culture promotes lying.

What a waste of time.

As though athletes lie more often than teachers or truck drivers or CEOs. Puhleeze!

A few weeks ago, I quoted author Ralph Keyes as saying “lying has become as common as scratching itches.” I’m starting to think it’s even more common.

Earlier, Arnold Schwarzenegger had sat down with the Fox hosts to promote his new movie, The Last Stand. The hosts took the opportunity to ask Schwarzenegger his opinion of the Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o  scandals. I guess they thought he’d have some deep thoughts, considering his own troubles with truth telling. But Schwarzenegger wanted to set the record straight. So he said—

Wait for it …. wait for it some more… “I never lied.”

The heck you say?!

Okay Arnold, I’ll humor you. Let’s hear it.

Says Arnold, “When my wife asked me the simple question, ‘Is this true?’ I said ‘Yes.’” Schwarzenegger then went on to state that he’d also never lied to the press.

Well  … okay… I suppose …

Damn! I’m at a serious loss for words here. This is some pretty bold shit here. A married man has an affair with his housekeeper, fathering a son in the process, and he still wants to present his behavior as honorable, because when his wife finally asked the “simple question,” he’d calmly stated the truth. Silly, Maria! Didn’t she know that Arnold would have told her everything at any time, if only she’s asked?! Lordy.

I like you, Arnold. Always have. But you will not pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.

Score—Ralph Keyes, one hundred bazillion and one. The human race in general, negative-I-can’t-count-that-high.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Telling Tales

I love telling stories. Some real and some not so real. Everyone in my household has been bitten by this same bug. Somebody is always telling a story around here. We just like making stuff up. Here’s an example.

Adam and I were having lunch the other day, and I’d ordered a cup of hot tea, because I had a cold and my sinuses were bothering me. I was fuzzy headed and not very coordinated, and every time I opened a sugar packet, more sugar got on the table than in my cup. I said, “Wait a minute. I know I can do this,” to no one in particular, and exasperated, Adam picked an empty packet off the table and began using it to sweep the loose granules off the table. Breathing a heavy sigh of annoyance he said “This isn’t the eighties Mom! You just can’t snort cocaine out in public for everyone to see!” The family in the booth across the way sneaked a look in our direction. I laughed. In that split second, Adam had told a story. A somewhat sad story of a dysfunctional family with a leftover, stoner hippie mom and her beleaguered son, but hey, a story.

Then there’s the time Christian called and told me he’d totaled the car, after he’d just had an accident. No worries, he said, he and the other two drivers were fine. What?! Just kidding, Mom.

And the time I pretended to call the police department—“Hello? Um, I live at ______ and have an unruly child here who doesn’t listen and says he wants another Mommy. Um hmm … yes … I think he could have a bag packed within the hour …” while Thomas starred at me, panic stricken. (My brother, who was actually on the other line said “Crystal! You’re pretending to call the cops on Thomas? Don’t do that! That’s some crazy stuff Mommy would have done!”) Yes, and where do you think I got it?

And Thomas is no innocent in all this. The “pretender” gene has definitely been passed on to this one; he’ll step into character in a minute, and he’s played more tricks on me than I can remember.

One the whole, I enjoy my family’s creativity and their flair for the dramatic. It keeps things interesting. I like to think that we’re descended from African griots, keeping up the traditions of our ancestors in completely new and unexpected ways.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Oxygen Network Cancels Controversial Reality Show

I swore I wasn’t going to write anything more about this show, ‘cause I am all Shawty Lo’d out, but once I heard the official news, I thought I should close the loop.

So, 40,000 protesters have had their way, and All My Babies’ Mommas is kaput!

I don’t care.

Well, I care a little bit. Because I just can’t understand how, with all the filth and violence that’s on television, folks could get so up in arms about this show.

Shawty Lo does not speak for me. Shawty Lo is not my representative. As Tami Winfrey Harris wrote, black America is not Shawty Lo. And, if those on “reality” television were our representatives—oh boy, the entire human race should be ashamed. 

I'd have preferred the show to air and then go down in flames when no one watched it.

But what’s that you say? People might have actually watched it? Oh, was that the problem?

Now, I could be wrong. It occasionally happens. But I can’t help wondering if what motivated this “controversy” more than anything else is fear. And that would be … the fear some of us have of “looking bad” in front of non-African Americans, be they white or other people of color. As though removal from the air of one tacky show could eradicate racism. Good luck with that.

But more than anything, I guess I’m just discouraged that we seem to be fighting the wrong battle. The ship has sailed. The bell has rung. There’s a huge market for trash television, and as trash goes, All My Babies’ Mommas didn’t seem that bad to me.

I love supernatural-thriller-mystery shows and was all pumped to see American Horror and then sat in horror, jaw dropped, while Dylan McDermott, an actor I actually admired to that point, appeared on the screen, apparently um ... pleasuring himself, all excited after catching his housemaid doing the same, in two fast-moving (although not fast-moving enough) back-to-back scenes that left me feeling like I had been sucker punched and had me reaching for the remote while shouting, “Next!” right before “Come quickly, Jesus!”

Yes, the storyline was intriguing, and the show was well directed and well acted. Yeah, okay. It was still vile and disturbing, and oh that’s right, this here was “art,” while Shawty Lo and his family are just “low-class ghetto Negroes” trying to make a quick buck by appealing to the lowest common denominator and shaming us all in the process. Hmmm …

Goodbye, All My Babies’ Mommas and hello Fat Girl Revenge and Shotgun Weddings!

Maybe my son (the cynical one, I won’t name him) is right, and Oxygen never intended for All My Babies’ Mommas to air—they just wanted to get black folks arguing with each other. 

Now that would be a story …

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Things Black Parents Say

Recently, I began learning to navigate the brave new world that is Twitter.

Twitter is interesting. As songwriter Novel tweeted “Twitter is basically like talking to yourself with an audience,” and the whole (albeit false) sense of “Hey, I’m hobnobbing with famous folks!” doesn’t hurt either.

But my favorite part of Twitter is the daily trending statements (or “hashtags”). Someone starts the hashtag, and then others jump in. For example, yesterday I tweeted in response to “#GotAThingFor” hashtag, adding “Haagen Dazs coffee ice cream, antique jewelry, and kissing all over my 8-yr-old’s face.” Others tweeted about what they've “got a thing for,” and it’s just funny to read all the comments.

One of today’s hashtags was “ThingsBlackParentsSay,” and while I knew this had the potential to go horribly wrong (such as when a white guy tweeted something about spitting watermelon seeds on the floor), I could not resist checking it out. I’ve been a parent since forever, and things parents say sounded like a cool topic to me. (If you’ve reached the stage in life when you’ve begun sounding like your own parents, you know what I mean.)

And … lots of these were pretty hilarious. Black parents clearly have a lot to say about their children knowing song lyrics better than their homework, leaving the door open and letting out all the heat, having big eyes at the store (“When we get in there, don’t look at nothing, don’t touch nothing, and don’t ask me about nothing!”), and getting mouthy. Also, it is clear that many black parents have no problem reminding their children who pays the bills and is otherwise in charge.

Yes, one could say these statements perpetuate a stereotype, but if you have a black parent or are a black parent, you can probably relate.

True story. All my boys had just come back from visiting Ed’s family in the Poconos. Ed and I had stayed home. Thomas, then about five, was looking a little scruffy. Me, suspicious mom, said “Thomas did you take a shower at all while at your grandparents?” Thomas was going through a phase of complaining every morning about having to shower. Seemingly unconcerned, Thomas shrugged and said “No.”

I said, “Wait a minute. Are you telling me you haven’t showered in three days?” Then I said, looking at Christian and Adam, “Neither of you made this boy take a shower for three days?!” Both looked at me blankly. “He said he didn’t feel like it,” Adam said, calmly. I paused. “What did Babci say?” But apparently, Babci had had nothing to say, so then I went a little crazy and said something about how maybe Thomas wouldn’t be able to visit anymore if no one would make sure that he adhered to basic hygiene standards, and I was criticized for overreacting and being too controlling, blah, blah, blah. But here’s the really relevant part. Later that week, I told this story to my girlfriends, and one of them said, unprovoked, “Girl, now you know if that had been Thomas’ Black grandmother, she would have said ‘Boy, I don’t care what you want! Get yo a-- in this tub!’” I laughed and started to protest and she said, “You know I’m telling the truth—that’s why you’re laughing!”

It’s a running joke in the black community that black parents are stricter and won’t “take no stuff” from their kids, while white parents are more collaborative and lenient. Again, I know it’s a stereotype, but darn it, it’s funny!

So what did I tweet? Follow me on Twitter at @crystalmusings and find out!

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sarah Gets Her Way, and I Ain’t Mad at Her

She's not Sarah, but she's definitely a stubborn little so and so.

My mother used to say that I am someone who “likes to get her way.” She meant to imply that I’m stubborn (I prefer the term “committed decision maker;" I can’t remember where I first heard that, but I like it), and I think she intended for me to understand that her comment was in no way a compliment. But this is one criticism that would never take hold because—who the heck doesn’t like to get her own way?

Maybe I am just that stubborn, but I can’t conceive of wanting to get someone else’s way, unless you’ve also adopted that way for yourself, like when you decide to compromise or let someone else have his way (in which case your way is to let him have his way). Am I supposed to believe that something is wrong with this?

Exactly who are these people that don’t like to get their own way, or in other words, “don’t really want what they want?” Is it even possible to not want what you want? Isn’t that a contradiction? I’m talking about wanting something at the time you want it, not five minutes, fifty minutes, or fifty years later when you say “I wanted it them, but I don’t want it now” or “I thought I wanted it, but I didn’t, so maybe I really didn’t want it” or “I wanted it, but had I known how bad it would be for me, I wouldn’t have wanted it” or something convoluted such as this. Forgetting all of that, how can you not want what you want?

This morning I watched several back-to-back episodes of Sarah 101, because I love design shows, and I really like Sarah Richardson’s (and her assistant Tommy Smythe’s) designs. During this series, Sarah was showing her viewers how to upgrade your “standard” suburban house for a mere $107,000 and some change in “upgrading” expenses. Pure fantasy on my part, but I like watching it anyway. Part of the upgrading process is working with the builder and finagling what alterations can be finagled before the builder considers his work done. Sarah had requested a major change to the floor plan, and the builder said yes! Holding up the revised floor plan for Tommy’s perusal, Sarah says with a big smile “Do you like it when you get your way?!”

Heck yes, I do, and by the looks of it, Sarah does as well. I’m not saying I won’t compromise, I’m not saying I can’t be persuaded that someone else has a better idea, and I’m not saying that I never change my mind. I’m just saying I like getting what I want, and I don’t know why I wouldn’t (or you wouldn’t, either, for that matter). 

Sunday, January 13, 2013

When White Is Right But Oh So Wrong

I read an article about black celebrities who've lightened their skin, and I’m not going to lie—I thought someone must be mistaken. I looked at the before and after photos and thought to myself, “Nah, this can’t be true. These differences have to be the result of Photoshop and make-up. Who would do this? It sounds painful and dangerous, and anyway, isn’t the kind of thinking that leads to stuff like this passé?” Then I forgot all about it.

Until today, when I read that a study conducted by the University of Cape Town found that approximately thirty-five percent of South African women bleach their skin, citing the desire for “white skin.”

South African musician Nomasonto Mnisi appeared on a BBC special about this topic, saying she just wants to be “light skinned.” She’s still black on the inside, she says, she just wants to look lighter on the outside. She told the BBC “It’s not about black or white. It’s about my skin being light … I have black kids. My man is black. I’m white for black.”

I don’t know what type of concoctions the black celebrities in question are using to lighten their skin, but according to the BBC, the bleaching agents used by women in South Africa can cause burns, skin damage, and cancer. Many of these products are illegal but still for sale.

Watching the BBC video, I was reminded of the Victorian ladies who applied face powder made with arsenic and of the Egyptian women who used face powder made with mercury. It’s beyond disturbing to think that in this day and age women are still poisoning themselves to achieve some crazy ideal of beauty. It’s upsetting to me as a woman in general and as a woman of color in particular.

This evening I watched Star Parker, founder of the Center for Urban Renewal (CURE) on Huckabee expressing her outrage about All My Babies’ Mommas. (Apparently, Fox news has gotten a hold of this story, and they are not letting it go for nothing.) Parker was arguing that the show is rewarding bad behavior, and I don’t know, maybe I’m just wrong, but I can’t take it that seriously. Who in the world is going to be looking at Shawty Lo as a role model? These are real people, and I don’t want to disparage their family, but let’s be serious. Most people planning to tune in to All My Babies’ Mommas are probably doing so to make fun of this clan and their drama—not because they see this lifestyle as aspirational. So, while I can admire Parker’s passion, and I’m in no way indifferent to the ills that plague the black family, I just can’t get too excited about this dumb show or what it supposedly says about black people.

But the message that’s sent when a woman of color—a beautiful women of color—risks her health to look “whiter,” because she’s been told, and believes, that dark skin is ugly? Ah man… that’s something I can be outraged about, even while I’m heartbroken. Where’s the damn petition for that?